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Going with the Flow

February 18th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments
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Let us return, for a while, to this subject again. Matt made a comment on my last post that kicked off a thought process in me, on the subject of planning, and making things up as you go along. Common wisdom suggests that you shouldn’t do the latter. I tend to fly in the face of that opinion, because I disagree. Not entirely, mind.

The A Team Method

Regular readers may be surprised to discover that I used to plan my writing out. Being obsessive like I am, it’s surprising I don’t do it more often. But my last major project (which is one – or several – minor redrafts from completion) was meticulously planned. So much so that some sections, which at the time of planning seemed good (and filled in some details of the world), ended up being redundant, and just over padded the read time. So they (eventually) got changed, or cut altogether. 

See, I guess this is a problem I have – I’m not sure how many of you other writers out there have it – but I’m not too good at improvisation. It’s got to be all or nothing for me. If I plan something, then it has to stick that way, and I will leave things in from older drafts, even if the rest of it has changed to the degree where it doesn’t fit anymore. What does this result in? A shambolic disjointed mess. I have a project like that too. 

The Indy Method

This is how I chose to write my latest project. Though I use the term ‘latest’ loosely, because it’s the same one I’ve been writing about in posts for the past year and a half now. I didn’t entirely ‘make it up as I went along’, I had certain plot points worked out, but getting to them was the part where I opted to go with the flow. This has advantages and disadvantages. The freedom to explore the world, and let your characters loose is fun, especially, if like me, you do a lot of ‘writing’ or rather ‘note taking’ in your head. It is more akin to stream of consciousness that way. 

The downside to this of course is you can generate a lot more ‘useless’ material than you need. I shouldn’t say useless, rather, redundant. It might fit in a codex or back-story, but not in the main plot. It can produce a lot of ‘in universe’ procrastination. I’ve read books (and it happens more frequently than perhaps it should) where characters go off on a long train of thought to fill in back story, and nothing actually happen in the story. It’s just an info dump. Which of course you should attempt to avoid at all costs. 

Icelandic river

A river near Seydisfjordur, Iceland, courtesy of David Stanley

The River Metaphor

The other problem with free-wheeling it is that sometimes you will hit a brick wall on how to progress. This might happen if you plan out your story too, so it isn’t exclusive. The beautiful thing about the Indy method is that sometimes you can find a way out of it. This happened recently with me. I was stuck at this place in the story, and had no idea how to move it forward. Not a clue. So I started to do a stream of consciousness thing. Instead of focussing on the main characters and what they were doing, I turned to the side characters – because they don’t exist in a vacuum, just to be wheeled out when the main characters need something to play off. And this solved my problems. Not all of them, granted, because I still have the B plot to integrate, but to push the characters forward into the next section that I’d ‘planned’, it worked perfectly. Yes, I had to create yet another new character (who was lurking in the wings of my subconscious anyway) and in doing so I had opened up yet more avenues. 

This is where the metaphor comes in. I began to think of this project like a river. I had the starting point, and it was eventually going to find its way to the ocean (or the end rather) but there was this dam in my way. But just this idle thinking about it opened up new paths – tributaries if you will – and now I feel somewhat spoilt for choice. At least now I know how to progress! 

Lessons Learnt

Ultimately, I’m not really advocating one style of writing over the other. I guess some writing lends itself to planning more than others (I cant see one of these popular ‘ritualistic serial killer’ crime novels working using the Indy method) but what I’ve found with my own writing is that if you are going to freeform it, then it’s best to go into the project with that mindset. Likewise if you’re planning meticulously. I personally find it very difficult to switch halfway through. Be warned though, Indying it isn’t easy. And it will most likely take you longer. But the journey can be fun and exciting!